The dust has now settled since we found out about the surprise death of David Bowie, which left everyone reflecting on a career that spanned five decades. Bowie mattered to a lot of people but just how was he relevant specifically to the hairdressing world? (And no, not just because he was a founder of The Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Long-Haired Men. True story, see Youtube)
Hairdressing and fashion are two horns of the same goat and you need a goat. Bowie was the cultural goat so to speak that stormed in via the medium of music and became both literally and metaphorically, music to the ears of a generation of misfits, then and since.
In an industry always on the cusp of fashion that employs people of all sexualities, hairdressers are by their nature, a creative breed. Hairdressing is about transformations, evolving looks and trying new looks. It’s about making people feel a certain way to empower them to believe they can do anything. Whether they want to look good while they run a multinational corporation or do the school run.
Bowie didn’t faff about, it wasn’t a gentle introduction, he appeared in the mainstream like many artists on Top of The Pops, but in a way that hadn’t been done before. He took the nations attention by the scruff of the neck. It was like an atomic bomb went off in popular culture, from day 1 with that Starman performance in 1972. The boy from Brixton blew up the way we think about image and androgynous boundaries forever.
What happened was the genesis of how we structure our views on the unusual and how we search for the substance beneath regardless of the aesthetic. Now we see someone different and think ‘They look interesting!’ instead of ‘who’s that weirdo? Different is now ‘cool’. ‘He’s a bit Bowie” is now a positive byword for an alternative look.
Bowie was an architect in a radical shift in public consciousness and making weird and alternative socially acceptable. A barrier that no longer exists was moved. There’s very little a musician can do now to shock us, to make us think outside the box in the way that he started to.
Whatever you remember him as, The thin white Duke, Ziggy Stardust, Alladin Zane or Starman, everyone’s been exposed to the shift he caused. He gave a 24ct gold master class in it being ok to stand out from the crowd.
To understand the difference he made to the cultural landscape that we are all now accustomed to its hard to look around now and see what it could’ve been, you have to look before Bowie.
We were not university educated in the numbers we are now. (We have four times higher the number of students now than in the 70’s) We were a blue color nation. We were a much more macho society and there was no such thing as metrosexual. Homosexuality had only just been decriminalized 5 years before he appeared on BBC1 with Starman and no one knew if he was a man or a woman, straight or gay, talented or a joke. His ambiguity left him impossible to pigeonhole. He got flack, a lot of flack, but history would prove that again pioneers take all the arrows. This was showcased perfectly in 2013 when the V&A did their sold out retrospective exhibition ‘David Bowie is’.
In the 70’s, people were not bombarded with music stations, or the internet like the way we are today in a Kardashian led world of celebrity via social media that’s fed almost intravenously into our psyche. It was way much more a case of quality over quantity, this left people wanting more. It could be another week at least before anyone would see him again on television. You had to buy his music, or listen intently to the radio in the hope that one of his songs were played, you had to dare I say it; buy a magazine (gasp!).
It is almost impossible today to think of any of the world’s key influencers of fashion and hairdressing who were not directly influenced by David Bowie. Everyone from Saint Laurent’s Hedi Slimane, Jean Paul Gautier, to Madonna to Lady Gaga to Noel Gallagher to Mark Ronson, Kate Moss to Kate Bush, every time they reference David Bowie, and of course all they influences over 50 years has trickled down to hairdressing.
There maybe musicians out there that have created better songs, there may still be musicians to come that will make better songs, but there is no other musician that can come and make an impact and move social barriers by radicalizing the way people think about appearances and sexuality. He made people feel something, he made them feel accepted. Teenagers who didn’t feel like they fitted in now had permission to be unique and different. Nearly every empowered misfit today stands on the shoulders of David Bowie, and with that empowerment today any misfit can confidently walk into any salon and ask for their hair to be cut and dyed in any weird way they feel like by a hairdresser who encourages and respects individuality. This is all done without the bat of an eye lid and makes salons a way more interesting place to visit and work. Now ground control to major tom, that’s progress.